how to paint kitchen cabinets

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Whether you’ve just constructed a new set or you want to add a little bit of aesthetic flair to your existing set, painting kitchen cabinets is a skill that can come in handy.

It’s really not hard at the end of the day. Follow these simple steps and you can’t go wrong.

Victoria, Homethods Author

how to paint kitchen cabinets

1.) Gathering Your Materials

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There’s one thing to consider before you start out: whether you’re going with paint or stain. Staining tends to highlight natural features of the wood’s surface, while paint serves as a complete cover.

Whichever way you’re going, you’ll need the following:

  • An electric sander or 120 and 220 grit sandpaper
  • A brush for paint or rags for stain
  • Your stain or paint
  • Drop cloths to protect your counters and floors
  • Some clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty in
  • A screwdriver or screw gun
  • Optional: Polyurethane Spray

Depending on the type of paint that you’ve decided on, you may also need primer. For the most part, wherever you buy the paint you’ll be able to get some primer as well so ask the staff if you’re unsure which type is ideal for what you want to do.

2.) Disassemble the Cabinets

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If you’re working with a newly built set of cabinets, you probably want to start painting before you put the doors on. For an existing set you’re looking at taking them apart first.

You’ll want to remove the doors, and the easiest way to do this is to take off the hinges on the cabinet’s face first, leaving them hanging from the doors. You don’t want to paint around or over hinges, it looks sloppy and if you’re using a thick paint it can cause the hinges to stick for a while.

Make sure the entire face is clear of any hardware at all. If you have screw-in hooks for hanging utensils, take them out. The surface needs to be as bare as possible in order for you to have an easy to work with space.

If you haven’t already, this is a good time to take out any food, dishes, or other items you might have in the cabinets. Things are going to get a little bit messy in the next couple of steps.

You might also want to remove the hinges from the doors at this point. You’ll have to do it soon enough. Keep track of the hinges, they can be iffy little things and aren’t always still completely interchangeable after years of use. Use masking tape and a marker if you don’t have room to lay out the doors properly.


3.) Prepping the Surface

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If you’re painting an established set of cabinets that’s been in a busy kitchen for a long time, you’re going to want to take the time to clean them now. While dust and dirt will easily go under in the next couple of steps, kitchen cabinets have a bad habit of picking up grease from cooking and that’s going to cause some problems.

A degreasing compound is your best bet for this, and they don’t need to be sparkling. Just make sure that you get off as much grease as possible.

On a new set of cabinets, you’ve hopefully already sanded and prepped the surface in anticipation of all of this but if you haven’t then just skip the cleaning and follow the directions below.

Go over the existing paint or stain with the sander. Wear a mask if you can’t easily make sure that air is coming through your kitchen, and get ready for dust to get all over the place. Sanding the face is actually the easy part.

Be precise with the sander, just clear the stain, coating, or paint and try not to dig into the wood grain. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can speed things up by using the edge of the sander either, this is sure to gouge the wood. Take your time, just get all of the old covering off of it.

Afterwards, you’ll need to use a rag to the extra dust off the face.

The doors are another matter, they will often need some extra work. Raised edges, molding, or whatever is fairly common on kitchen doors and using a power sander to get into these crevices can range from hard to impossible.

Get the flat surfaces with the sander, then switch to paper for curves and indentations.

You want a uniform, smooth texture on both the face of the cabinets and the doors. This will help ensure that the paint or stain takes properly and evenly and you don’t end up with any mottling when you get to that step.

4.) Prep the Area

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how-to-paint-kitchen-cabinetsPrepping the area is fairly simple, but if you haven’t done it before it’ll take a little bit of time. Grab your drop cloths and some masking tape.

Tape the edges of the drop cloths along the walls. Come up about two to three inches, and tape them down. This might seem unnecessary at first, but take a look at the cloth after you’re done and you’ll be thankful that you had the forethought to do it.

If you haven’t installed a new set of cabinets yet, it’s preferable to do all of the painting and staining in your garage or even your front yard, rather than after you’ve installed them. It’ll make this a lot easier. Still lay down a drop cloth if you’re touchy about how your concrete looks though, not all coatings come off easily.


5.) Get Painting

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Applying paint and applying stain are quite a bit different.

If you’ve decided to paint your cabinets, then grab your brush and can of paint. Rollers can also be useful for the face if you don’t desire any texturing at all. 1”-2” sponge rollers are the way to go for the face.

Apply the paint evenly and slowly. Keep a rag on hand in case you mess up so that you can quickly take care of any running that might occur. Keep going until you have the entire face done, then go find your doors.

One thing to keep in mind when painting: the inside of the doors on the cabinets. It’s up to you if you want to go two-tone here, but it will provide a more “complete” look if you do decide to do them. For the most part, painting the inside of the face is unnecessary.

Do the same with the flat areas on your doors, then carefully use a small brush to paint grooves, molding, and curved surfaces.

After that, you’ll just have to wait it out and see if you want to apply another coat. The main reason you’d go for another coat is if you used a thin paint and the wood is showing.

Staining is quite a bit simpler for the most part, but its more messy and the surface will need to be extra well prepped. Go with paint if you severely damaged the grain of the wood while prepping the surface. 

Now, the complex part is here. Read the following carefully:

  • Stick the rag in the stain.
  • Wipe the portion of the rag with stain on it over the wood.
  • Try not to get any on you or anything you care about.

Stains come in a wide variety of colors, but the main factor here is how dark it ends up being. Some are only applied once, while others will need to be applied multiple times over the course of a day.

The face and the doors will be done in the same way, rags have a nice way of being able to get into everywhere they need to.

Adding extra coats of stain will add some visual “depth” to the piece you’re working on.

One final note: don’t forget to paint or stain the backs of the doors as well.

6.) Finishing Up

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If you opted for the polyurethane spray, now is the time to apply it. Personally, I like to apply multiple coats of the glossy stuff over dark stains. It enhances the illusion of depth in the finished cabinets.

Many people will opt for a coat or two with a matte finish. This one is really on you and how you want things to look. If you like the “old-school” pastel paints, for instance, you might want to try out a matte finish instead of a glossy one. Someone with an eye for more modern design may go with a light gray or white paint covered over with a high-gloss finishing spray.

The spray is recommended but not required. It will make things easier to clean and even a single coat can supply a pretty good amount of protection to the finished surface.

After this, you’ll be reassembling your cabinets and basking in the glory of a job well done. Put the stuff back in and enjoy.


While it might seem complex, learning how to paint kitchen cabinets is actually surprisingly easy. Get out there and do it yourself and you’ll end up with a kitchen you can truly be proud of, and when people ask you who did it you can hike your thumb at yourself and inform them you did. Make your ideal cabinet set a reality.